One night in 1976 I was driving home from work after a very long day around eleven p.m. As I turned the corner I saw a mother standing on the curb with two little boys and a baby in her arms. As I glanced at her, she hailed me in Spanish, her free hand reaching out in supplication. I looked away and continued on, as I was tired and aching for my bed.
I was starting a new career and very into me, me, me — self-involved, and self-centered in the extreme. Suddenly, into my mind flashed a memory. I remembered my own mother taking my two brothers and me to the movies on the bus, while my father worked driving taxi at night. One night as we returned from the movies, we were attacked in our driveway,
and my mother screamed and beat the man away from me. We ran into our house and were safe.
I realized that the woman on the curb and her small children were possibly in danger. So I drove around the block and stopped. The mother had a business card in her hand for a car wash which was quite far away. She spoke only Spanish, but I comprehended that her husband was working there and she was trying to bring him his dinner.
She had gotten off the bus at the wrong place and was now walking in the wrong direction — even farther away from her needed destination. To be honest, I was not happy. I regretted stopping, and in my mind was telling myself I was a patsy. All I could think was, “I’m so tired, now I have a long drive over there and back, and I have to get up very early.”
Nonetheless, despite my regretful attitude, I loaded the little boys in the back seat and the mother and baby in the front. When we arrived at the car wash, her husband, the night watchman, was waiting and worrying. He saw his family and his face lit up.
His wife quickly told him the story. His gratitude was effusive, and I felt so ashamed that I had passed her by at first. And I was doubly ashamed by my attitude. It cost me only 45 minutes of my time and I was rewarded by a deep, guiltless sleep that night.
The memory of that mother and her children changed me forever. I see people around me with new eyes and pay attention to them. I’m still grateful to her, because through our encounter I learned a huge lesson about my own self-centeredness. I learned that if you do the right thing, even with the wrong attitude, you’ve still done the right thing.
Now, whenever I become too absorbed into how important I am in this temporal world, I look outward to see where my next lesson will come from. I know I will get a spiritual jolt from an opportunity to help someone.